Saturday, November 20, 2004

Empress In Her Own Right

When Masako Owada married Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito in 1993 the Japanese thought it was the best thing that ever happened to the venerable imperial family. The public was thrilled by their story. A formidably educated, modern woman gives up her promising diplomatic career to marry her prince, and, it was thought, bring a fresh breeze into a stuffy imperial household. And a determined emperor-to-be, ignores all potential brides to win her hand in marriage.

More than ten years later much about this storybook marriage remains true. The couple seems genuinely devoted to each other. Before her recent illness, the couple used to go on mountain hikes, take snapshots of each other on formal tours and play music together. Not a whiff of scandal has ever touched their marriage. Only one thing clouds this happy picture. They have not yet produced baby boy, and heir, and Masako is now 40.

In any other family, of course, this situation would be a matter of personal inclination or at worst private grief. But Naruhito will, on his father’s death, become the 126th emperor of Japan, in a line that stretches back some 2,800 years into the mists of legend. Even discounting some of the earlier emperors as mythical figures, historical evidence traces the imperial line from at least the 6th Century to Emperor Akihito – without once having passed to another family.

This is a record of dynastic continuity unmatched in Asia or anywhere else in the world. In Thailand, for example, the present Chakri royal family was preceded by two others – that of the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya Houses. The British royal family can be traced back nearly a thousand years to William the Conqueror, although the succession has passed through a number of families to the present House of Windsor.

Today, six men, including the Crown Prince, his brother, Akishino and their great uncle, the brother of the late Showa Emperor (Hirohito) are in line to succeed the current emperor. Naruhito and his brother are both are both relatively young. But the remaining four are middle-aged or elderly. Indeed, no males, and only males can succeed, have been born into the family in nearly 40 years. Therein lies the problem. If this trend is not reversed, and increasingly this seems unlikely, the Japanese imperial line could come to and end.

Next In Line

Naruhito 44
Akishino 38
Hitachi 67
Mikasa (Takahito) 89
Mikasa (Tomohito) 58
Katsura 59

Almost as soon as the couple returned from their honeymoon, royal watchers and journalists began looking for signs that Masako was pregnant. Speculation rose every time she canceled a public event because of a fever or a cold. Countless newspaper articles reminded readers that the Empress Michiko had used similar excuses when she conceived. But these hopes were regularly dashed when Masako reappeared in public obviously still not pregnant.

As the years passed, speculation began to arise that the couple was seeking professional help. One clue was a visit Masako made to a hospital in northern Honshu, as part of a blood donation campaign. Immediately, the pundits noted that a prominent infertility specialist was based at the facility. It was reported that ginseng extract, widely believed to promote virility, had been dispatched to the palace. Naruhito, who had earlier brushed aside concerns about the prospects for a baby with the quip, now acknowledged the “degree of peoples’ interest in this matter as well as the importance.”

In 2001 it seemed that whatever steps the couple may have taken were finally working. In December Crown Princess Masako gave birth. Department stores held celebratory sales, newspapers published special editions, television stations broadcast hours of programs about the royal family. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offered his “heartfelt congratulations.” Alas for traditionalists Masako gave birth to baby girl, soon named Princess Aiko. The problems of succession had not been solved.

There is plenty of evidence that the burden of producing a male heir, not to mention other problems of living in an institution known for being a pressure cooker -- stories abound of the mental pressure that Empress Michiko, born a commoner, suffered at the hands of imperial minders when she was younger – were affecting Masako’s health. She was in virtual seclusion all during 2004. In May, departing alone for an official trip to Europe, the Crown Prince publicly announced that Masako had “completely exhausted herself.” It was understood that she was suffering from mental depression and undergoing psychotherapy.

The obvious question is why perpetuate this agony? Why not change the law so that a female could accede to the throne? There is no lack of candidates. In addition to princess Aiko, Prince Akishino has two daughters, Mako, 12, and Kako, 9. The Imperial House Law clearly states that the throne “shall be inherited by a male of patrilineal imperial descent.” But this was not always the case. In Japan’s history eight women have ruled as empresses in their own right. The most recent was Empress Go-Sakuramachi (1762-1771), who abdicated when a male royal came of suitable age. Is there any reason why a woman could not reign in this new century?”

Japan is one of the few monarchies in the world with a “salic” law. This sounds like something out of Shakespeare (see Henry V), but in fact the law is not all that ancient. It dates back to the beginning of the Meiji Era (1867-1912). As they did with other issues, the Meiji era modernizers studied European institutions in which both male and female descendants are usually of equal royal status. But the drafters of the first Imperial Household Law decided not to allow women to ascend the throne in order to preserve the single line that, according to legend, is descended unbroken from the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami.

After World War II the American occupiers defined the emperor of Japan as a constitutional head of state and “symbol of the state and unity of the people” but in redrafting the Imperial Household Law in 1947, they maintained the male-only provision. This was a curious anomaly. After all, the American-drafted post-war Constitution enshrined equality of the sexes, allowed women to vote and opened the Diet to female representatives.

Moreover, the Americans instituted other changes that would eventually complicate the succession. They abolished the aristocracy and divested 11 families of imperial status, considerably shrinking the pool from which future emperors could be drawn. That is one reason why the current emperor and his son chose commoners for brides. There was literally nobody else outside the immediate family to marry. Of course, marrying a foreigner, even of royal blood, would be unthinkable.

Public opinion polls now show that the Japanese public strongly supports opening the imperial throne to female succession. This trend accelerated markedly after Masako gave birth to a daughter. The current prime minister has also said that he too favors female succession. This month a panel of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, held out the possibility of allowing a woman to succeed to the throne. But it remains something of a mystery why Prime Minister Koizumi decided to make it a Constitutional amendment. After all, the Imperial Household Law, is only that, a law. It would be changed by a simple majority vote in the Diet.

One gets a glimmer of understanding when one learns that the amendment has been paired with another Constitutional revision that would allow Japan to use force in international peacekeeping operationst. Article 9, the war-renouncing clause is the proverbial “third rail” of Japanese politics. It has been untouched since the document was approved in 1947. Indeed, it has prevented any amendments to the Constitution, even fairly innocuous housekeeping changes, for fear it might involve a change in Article 9.

Conservatives ardently desire to repeal Article 9 or alter it so that Japan can become what they call a “normal” nation. The proposed change in the Constitution would insert language allowing for “military force for self-defense.” That falls short of what many conservatives would like, but it does spell out what has up to now only been something rather loosely inferred from the documents and from a “natural right” to self defense.

But any such step runs against a strong strain of pacifism in the modern Japanese polity which is felt with special passion among . . . whom? Women. So one can easily sniff out the beginnings of a compromise. Traditionalists, who might be opposed to women on the throne, are mollified by a modest alteration of Article 9 (which breaks the taboo of tampering with it). Liberals and women concerned about any steps towards “militarism” are pacified with a change in succession law, allowing a woman to become empress. Viewed from this angle, a necessary and popular change to bring Japan closer to the modern era as well lift some of the burden and pressure that nearly broke a young woman who gave up her career for the nation beings to look just a little bit shabby.




70 Comments:

Blogger James J. Na said...

I vote to allow the members of the Imperial Family to eat, finally, fugu.

Maybe that'll improve its chance of getting boy babies. Ha, ha.

On a serious note, a very good summary. I think women should be allowed to rule as Empresses in Japan. Although I must confess, I detest any kind of royalty or aristocracy.

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Blogger cslewis9 said...

I think that it is very interesting situation. I am a strong supporter in Royalty and I get sick when people say they dont like it. But Tradition must be uphelds, and modernity must be recognized. Personally I think the situatuion should be left to Akihito and Naurihito.

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Our range of Spas start from as little as �2995 through to �13000 for our largest luxury spa, so click on the links and explore our range of Spa's and we think you'll agree that our these spas offer great value for money, performance and quality.
[a href="http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk"]Hot tubs | Spas[/a]
algaecide http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk algaecide

February 6, 2007 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger hoorhuslu said...

These spas from our Elite Spa Range through to the premium Saratoga Spas are from well established spa manufacturers who have been producing quality spas for a long time and use only the highest quality components and are all 'Hand Finished'.

The range of Spa's that we stock will suit any individual budget and/or hydrotherapy requirement. The manufacturers that we deal with for our range of Spa's only use the most reliable equipment, such as proprietary jets and fully compliant European CE and TUV approved pumps, heaters & Controllers.

Our range of Spas start from as little as �2995 through to �13000 for our largest luxury spa, so click on the links and explore our range of Spa's and we think you'll agree that our these spas offer great value for money, performance and quality.
[a href="http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk"]Hot tubs | Spas[/a]
chlorine granules http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk chlorine granules

February 8, 2007 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger hoorhuslu said...

These spas from our Elite Spa Range through to the premium Saratoga Spas are from well established spa manufacturers who have been producing quality spas for a long time and use only the highest quality components and are all 'Hand Finished'.

The range of Spa's that we stock will suit any individual budget and/or hydrotherapy requirement. The manufacturers that we deal with for our range of Spa's only use the most reliable equipment, such as proprietary jets and fully compliant European CE and TUV approved pumps, heaters & Controllers.

Our range of Spas start from as little as �2995 through to �13000 for our largest luxury spa, so click on the links and explore our range of Spa's and we think you'll agree that our these spas offer great value for money, performance and quality.
[a href="http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk"]Hot tubs | Spas[/a]
healthy hot tub http://www.celtic-spas.co.uk healthy hot tub

February 13, 2007 at 4:38 PM  

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